Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #9 - Something Wicked This Way Comes

Lest you think I'm behind on my reading goal for the year - never fear, for I am right on target. The end of the 5th month saw me finishing my 9th and 10th books for the book challenge. What I'm really behind on is blogging the books and here's my attempt to remedy that.

I picked up a lost book of my childhood in May - Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. I remember being a kid of maybe 11 or 12 and checking it out from the public library. I read the first couple chapters and then abandoned it. The prose was too thick, the story to moribund. It just seemed like nothing was happening. As a horror novel, it failed for me, which is no surprise since I probably had just finished reading The Exorcist. I was expecting something a lot, well, scarier. So it's a book that I'd been meaning to revisit for a long time, but as these things tend to go, I just hadn't gotten around to it.

A book with a serious autumnal feel, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a classic in its genre, but what exactly that genre is is hard to pin down. It has elements of a horror novel, but also of fantasy and science fiction. A carnival, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives unseasonably late in the small town where Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway live next door to each other. Jim & Will are the best of friends, born minutes apart on each side of midnight. They are quintessential boys, especially of the time period in which the book takes place (1940s or 50s by my estimation.) They are thrilled that a carnival has come to town in late October. Naturally, there is much more to this carnival than meets the eye. Jim's father is absent, while Will's is an 50-something man with whom he has only a passing relationship.

Their boyish curiosity leads them to the carnival after hours where they witness a carousel that, while purportedly broken, actually can age the rider one year for each revolution it makes. Conversely, it will shave a year off their age for every revolution backward. There is a circus full of freaks and Mr. Dark himself is "The Illustrated Man" (a direct reference to one of Bradbury's earlier works) covered in tattoos - tattoos which have a darker, more sinister meaning that unfolds slowly as the book progresses. With each passing page, another evil aspect of the carnival is revealed, but even at the end of the book, much remains shrouded in mystery.

I had very mixed feelings on this book. As a horror novel, I felt it failed miserably. It was never scary. I chalk that up to the time period in which it was written. It had a VERY "literary" feel to it - as if to say, look-at-me-I'm-an-important-book. I can see why I was never able to read it as a kid. Even at nearly 38, there were times I considered bailing and I even started another book before I was finished with it, which is usually the death knell to the temporarily abandoned book. But I persevered and ultimately I appreciated the novel more than I enjoyed it. I feel like the writing was just far too turgid for me to really get into it.

Having said that, Bradbury is a master at setting the scene. Although the weather was warming up and we were headed into summer as I started reading the book, I felt like it should be fall. His descriptions are good without being overdone and I liked how not every little tiny detail about the carnival was revealed all at once. The slow reveal helped make the pay off worth it, even though I felt like the end was a bit of an anticlimax.

But what I loved most about this book was its commentary on accepting one's place in their life. Jim wants nothing more than to ride the carousel so that he can hasten his growing up, while Will's father pines for his younger days. It's only Will that sees the folly in this and serves as the conscience of the story. When both Jim and Mr. Halloway inevitably accepted that life progresses as it does, relationships all around were strengthened and became more authentic. As someone who is only a few years from the end of his 30s, this spoke loud and clear.

I would overall recommend Something Wicked This Way Comes, but I think I would have enjoyed it more as a 16-year-old, even though I have no doubt I would have still had trouble with the writing style. And I know that had I read it then, I would have identified much more with the boys rather than seeing myself in Will's father, despite the fact that I am smack dab in between them in age.

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